This fourth contribution to the blog series on the yamas focuses on Brahmacharya, which can be interpreted as ‘celibacy’ or ‘behaviour that leads to Brahman’. Yamas are ethical principles that were outlined by the Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras approximately 2000 years ago. These ethical principles lay the foundation for the spiritual work to be carried out by yogis in their quest for Self realisation. There are five ethical principles of which Brahmacharya is one.
What is Brahmacharya?
Traditionally, Brahmacharya was understood in two ways:
- A commitment to celibacy when not married, and
- Fidelity when married.
In both forms, Brahmacharya is and was the underpinning of a virtuous life. Traditionally, Brahmacharya was the label given to ‘early’ life (until the mid 20s) where it was common to devote oneself to learning (under the guidance of a guru) and celibacy was common practice. Later in life (mid 20s onward), it was common to start a family and so Brahmacharya took on a different meaning; that of fidelity. In traditional texts (not including the Yoga Sutras, which describes the effects of this practice but does not define the practice itself), a third interpretation of Brahmacharya was offered; that is, the commitment one makes to one’s guru.
Common to all of these interpretations is the cultivation of self discipline. Abstinence should never be forced. Rather, it should arise naturally for the practitioner and it should always be tethered to an established meditation practice – the practice of celibacy does not stem from the belief that sex is ‘bad’, but rather from the recognition that sexual energy is powerful and can enhance one’s spiritual practice when redirected appropriately. However, the quality of the energy we cultivate is not a given. Rather, the quality of our energy is determined by the quality of our consciousness. Power without consciousness is dangerous
Recognising that there is an energetic exchange in all of our interactions, sexual or otherwise, we are behoved to honour the Divine in others and also to be conscious of the energy we bring to all of the situations we find ourselves in. This means each exchange should be true to the spirit of each of the other yamas also: that is, ahimsa (non-violence); satya (truthfulness); asteya (not taking what isn’t yours); aparigraha (non-covetousness).
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